Curly Hair and the Age of Acceptance
Having curly hair comes with amazing benefits. It’s show-stopping, youthful! Curls make us unique—we stand out in crowds and people know we’re forces of nature to be reckoned with on sight alone. That said, not everyone wants to be unique. Many among us would gladly give up their hair’s shape just to look “normal.” Some curly girls… just want to be girls, and while that’s OK, it makes me question whether or not it’s motivated by the right reasons.
What is “normal”? Actual diversity of appearance, whether it be hair, body size, or skin color, is as natural as a fish is in water. Everyone looks different from one another in some way, and that’s perfectly fine. Life would be pretty boring if we all looked the same. So why doesn’t it feel that way? Well, the “normal” that we’re bombarded with through movies, TV, ads, and social media, are all part of an artificial standard. Oftentimes, people who don’t fit this “normal” are not the icons our culture celebrates.
We’ve progressed leaps and bounds in challenging the artificial standard of what is considered “normal” in our media, but we still have a long way to go. I’m not saying you should trash your phone—I love Instagram and other forms of media as much as anyone else—but I find it important to take a step back and remind myself that the digital world is just that: digital. Not reality.
When I was in middle school, I had curls that arrived just as I was headed into puberty. I had stick straight hair when I was in elementary school, and I wore it very long, so I didn't realize that the wave that was developing was actually going to become curls the second I cut my hair. And that day came- I cut it- short- very short. And it exploded- but not evenly. The front was super tiny curls, the sides, curly, but more towards the ends, and the underneath- still straight. And the frizz!! I had no idea what to do with it! This was 1978. Believe it or not, there was no such thing as flat irons then. People actually used irons- like, for clothes!! And you can't iron short hair! I had never styled my hair in any way, so I couldn't even attempt to blow dry it straight- I didn't have the tools or skills. And, there were no products- I can remember trying out brylcreem! It was mainly a mens hair styling ointment at the time. So what happened? I found a little blue handkerchief, and I wore that handkerchief for a YEAR! I was that weird girl in the back of the class.
My hair grew quickly, and at some point, I ventured into trying other approaches. Braiding and barrettes helped. But I was always in a battle to conquer and change my hair, to try to get my hair to be "normal". It decimated my confidence. It took up my thoughts, my time and attention. I tried to keep my head down. I tried to disappear most of the time.
Flash forward to me in my 20s. I was in a car accident that injured my neck and shoulders. The next day, I was able to wash my hair, but there was no way I could blow dry it. I went to work. To my shock, I received compliments all day long on my new perm! No one could believe my hair was that curly, and no one (especially me) could believe how pretty it was!!
So that is how I started my curly journey. It has not been a straight path- pun intended! But it has been a journey that has led me to reconsider so many beliefs and perceptions that I had about myself and my place in the world.
Every time hair is straightened to look “normal," a natural, beautiful part of someone’s identity has been suppressed. Even if it’s not spoken aloud, hiding your curls every day sends a message to your brain saying, “Something is wrong with me”. This couldn't be further from the truth!
It is decades later, and with the wisdom that comes with being in my 50s, that I realize the incredible power shift in owning my unique beauty- whatever it is. I have never gotten as many compliments in my life as I have in the last 2 decades as I embraced my curls more and more. Accepting those compliments was something I had to get comfortable with. I realized I still had that part of me, trying to disappear because I thought I looked so awful, still wanting to hide behind a handkerchief.
There has never been more information about healthy hair, and more support to embrace your curls, and your unique look, whatever it is. I hope you continue down the path of realizing that the things that are unique about you should be supported- not suppressed.
Be shamelessly yourself, and be amazed at how it frees your mind and soul to think about so many other things that can bring you joy- when you're not worried about fixing something, or hiding something. Rock your curls! Rock your freckles! Rock whatever size you are, rock whatever your passion is. And feel the strength and peace and JOY it gives you!
Be the girl that inspires someone else to do the same!
Tell me how you came to love your curls! I would love to hear your story!
You just described me in 1978! My silky straight hair exploded into curls at 14! Wore a blue bandanna and Barretts for years!